This nostalgic post will not mean much to most people – except perhaps to men of my generation who had to live through such a deprived era and have seen how the Internet has changed everything we know.
Now in my sixties I am sitting outside a cafe on Old Compton St in London’s notorious Soho district. Or it least it was notorious. Today, much like Times Square in New York – as I understand – it is completely cleaned up and un-notorious with only a few shops remaining of the once prevalent sex trade, now mostly catering for the gay pound. It changed not through any heavy legal crack-down but, like a lot else, through the changes brought by the onset of the Internet removing the need to go out to buy porn magazines, books and movies.
Over thirty years back it was completely different. Then I would never have sat outside a cafe and would have been very cautious of even coming in by daylight – but then I had a guilty conscience. A shopping trip to Soho was a furtive affair usually made under cover of darkness, armed with a shoulder bag, and planned with a clear itinerary so as to quickly move in and out of doorways.
My own particular interest here was for books, magazines and the predecessor to DVDs and videos – Super 8 films.
Moving swiftly inside the shop you’d be pressed against a heaving mass of tightly pressed male flesh with barely enough room to jostle your way through to the shelves. Many men – it was always just men- were simply browsing with no intention of buying. Occasional ineffectual calls from management failed to shift them. Of course I always bought something – even at the outrageous prices they changed. Kink commanded higher prices with 10 pounds being usual for a magazine -a lot for a young man in those days.
With my burgeoning interest in kink and the bizarre I had my own favourite haunts:-
1. Swish publications
My main port of call. CP with a femdom bias selling their own “Madame” magazine, “Sadie Stern” magazines and even a few ripped-off and pasted together collections of Namio Harukawa drawings.
2. Janus Bookshop
Mostly catering to CP erotica with more of an emphasis on subfem, stocking its own magazines including Janus, Roué and others.
Commanding a presence along Charing Cross Road, the ground floor was nominally a book shop but a discreet staircase downstairs led to a wonderful treasure trove. Not so much kink but best stocked general erotica.
I cannot remember the name of this one. Cut off in an alley in Chinatown it was one of the first I discovered and may have been Swish before they moved. Can anyone enlighten?
5. Original Soho Bookshop One of the last bookshops now standing, stocked mostly with DVDs and a few magazines or books. Very little fetish and most gay-oriented. In the spirit of “research” I bought one product for old times sake but without much enthusiasm.